October 31/Ann Arbor, Mich./University of Michigan -- A common food preservative appears to slow or even stop the growth of certain head and neck cancers, according to a University of Michigan study. The researchers found that the anti-bacterial agent Nisin activates a protein that promotes cell death in cancer cells, but does not harm normal "good" cells.

Oral cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, with between 40-6-% of patients surviving for five years after diagnosis.

Nisin is a broad spectrum anti-bacterial, effective against the microbes that cause staph infections and botulism, as well as many types of food spoilage. The World Health Organization and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved it for human consumption several decades ago. University of Michigan School of Dentistry professor Yvonne Kapila, the study's principal investigator, says that suggests obtaining FDA approval to test Nisin's cancer-fighting properties in clinical trials should be easier than with a therapy that has never been tried on people.